The significance of the Second Coming

What the Second Coming accomplishes

Hans K. LaRondelle, Th.D., is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

The climactic event of biblical verity is the Second Coming, when Christ returns to judge the world and to vindicate both His dead and living elect.

The common creed of Western Christianity, the Apostles' Creed (c. 700), states that Jesus Christ "rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, thence He will come to judge the living and the dead" 1 Orthodox theologians all agree on this doctrine. One evangelical scholar affirms, "It is the basis of the Christian's hope, the one event which will mark the beginning of the completion of God's plan."2 This high evaluation of the second advent or parousia of Christ is justified in the light of Paul's inspired declarations: "He [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).*

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1Thess. 4:16-17).

"This [deliverance from oppression] will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

The brief statements in Paul's letters intend to reassure the new believers of Christ's original promise." 'I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am' " (John 14:3, emphasis added)." 'For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done'" (Matt. 16:27). He even placed His return in the awesome setting of the great Day of Yahweh, when He identified His Parousia completely with the coming of Israel's God:" 'They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other'" (Matt. 24:30-31; cf. Isa. 27:12-13; 43:5-7; 56:8). The return of Christ is the book of Revelation's central theme (Rev. 1:7), and it portrays His coming repeatedly as the climax of various series of future events (see Rev. 6:12- 17; 14:14-20; 19:11-21). This partial review reveals the second advent of Christ as an essential of the New Testament faith.

The foundation of the Parousia: The resurrection of Christ

Without the glorious return of Christ, His own promise of " 'the renewal of all things' " (Matt. 19:28) would collapse. More than that, the purpose of the first coming of Christ would be seriously jeopardized, if not totally lost. With compelling force, Paul argued the unbreakable unity of the believer's present and the believer's future salvation in Christ: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is use less and so is your faith... if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor. 15:13,14, 17-19).

The apostle based the certainty of our hope in eternal life, that is, of the resurrection of the dead, squarely on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. About the historical reality of Christ's resurrection Paul had no doubts. The risen Lord had clearly spoken to him on the road to Damascus and called him to be His witness and apostle (see Acts 26:15-18), an experience with far-reaching significance for the zealous Pharisee. He considered Jesus' resurrection from the dead as the beginning of the promised resurrection of the saints, foretold by Israel's prophets (see Job 19:25-27; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). Wrote R E Bruce: "Since God had raised Jesus from the dead, he would assuredly raise all his people in due course more specifically, at Jesus' parousia, his advent in glory."3 Paul illustrated this spiritual connection by calling the risen Christ "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (I Cor. 15:20, emphasis added). This image reminded them of the appointed feast: when a sheaf of the first grain of the harvest was offered to God, the entire harvest was holy. Paul explained: "If the root is holy, so are the branches" (Rom. 11:16). In other words, Christ's resurrection guarantees the future raising of all "those who belong to him" (1 Cor. 15:23).

Paul further placed the significance of Jesus' first coming in the larger frame work of all salvation history, declaring: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22, emphasis added). Here Christ is revealed as the second Adam, the new Father of the human race, who has determined the future of mankind "much more" than did Adam, just as eternal life is "much more" than death (see also Rom. 5:14, 15). In Christ we may "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2), because "Christ was raised from the dead" and "death no longer has mastery over him" (Rom. 6:9). The raising of Christ from the dead is clearly the indispensable foundation of all Christian faith and hope.

Reassurances of the risen Lord Jesus

The gospel is not based merely on the empty tomb of Jesus, but also on the surprising appearances of the risen Lord to His disciples (see John 20; 1 Cor.l5:5- 8) and on His outpouring of God's Spirit on them (Acts 2:1-4). Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, based his stirring message to Israel entirely on the resurrection and ascension of Christ to heaven. His point was to explain the significance of the visible outpouring of God's Spirit on the Christ-believing Jews, in the progressive unfolding of the divine plan of salvation (see Acts 2:32,33). Peter announced that the outpouring of God's Spirit, as fore told by Joel (2:28), had now become a present reality because of the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus as the Lord and Messiah in heaven (Acts 2:36). Its fulfillment was not imaginary or without evidence: the Spirit of prophecy was signally restored in Israel as the sign of the Messianic age, a reality so overwhelming and convicting that about three thousand Jews were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). Hendrikus Berkhof explains: "It is only due to the appearances of the risen Jesus that despair gave way to a new and unusually strong faith. Therefore the resurrection maybe called the decisive redemptive event . . . the Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection."4

In short, Christian faith in general and Christian faith in the Parousia particularly is not based on some ideology or moral philosophy, but on undeniable historical facts and powerful realities demonstrated in Christ. After Pentecost, Peter's faith remained oriented to the personal coming of Christ: "He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets" (Acts 3:21). The promise of the angels at Jesus' ascension confirmed the Christian hope: " "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven' " (Acts 1:11, emphasis added). No invisible, spiritual, or secret advent is predicted here, but rather His visible and personal return from heaven.

Early Christian worship and the blessed hope

At His last supper, Jesus made the solemn promise: " T tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom"' (Matt. 26:29, emphasis added). The connection Jesus set here between the Lord's Supper and the coming Messianic banquet makes each Communion service an anticipation of the Second Coming. Paul recognized this forward-looking aspect of the Lord's Supper, when he wrote his instruction: "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" ( 1 Cor. 11:26, emphasis added). This valuable link of the Lord's Supper with His promised return is often lost by a one-sided emphasis on the atoning death of Jesus. Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthians with an ancient Aramaic prayer, which New Testament scholar ship believes was part of the earliest Aramaic-speaking church: "Maranatha!," meaning "Come, O Lord/" (1 Cor. 16:22, emphasis added). Oscar Cullmann comments: "We know that all worship in early Christianity was considered an anticipation in the present of the Kingdom of God . . . This connection between present and future reality . . .represents the peculiar character and greatness of the early Church's worship."5

This forward-looking attitude of the original Christian worship is evident in the apostolic letters. In his earliest letter (A.D. 50), Paul reported that the church in Thessalonica had truly "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead -Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thess. 1:9,10, emphasis added). At the end of the first century, long after Pentecost, John ended the book of Revelation with this personal assurance of the risen Lord: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'" John responded immediately: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20, emphasis added). The Advent hope was a living hope that determined the faith and worship of the early church.

The sanctifying power of the Christian hope

The apostles did not teach the Second Coming as an isolated dogma but as a vital truth that was to shape the believer's life. Hope in the Parousia was to be experienced as a sanctifying power that would prepare them with confidence for the advent of Christ. Paul implied that sanctification, like justification, was both a prerequisite and a guarantee of glorification, when he stated succinctly: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27, or translated: "Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come" (NEB). This phrase indicates again an organic link between present and future salvation. In Christ there is in essence only one salvation, to be realized in a present and a future phase. The future is assured in the present redemption by one and the same faith in Christ. Paul explained this assurance of salvation in a masterly way: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Rom. 8:11). What an assurance, anchored in a living faith and experience with Christ! The Christian may already now taste "the powers of the coming age" (Heb. 6:5). Bruce clarifies: "Inwardly they already enjoyed a foretaste of the coming resurrection life eternal life because they were united by faith to the risen Christ, incorporated in him."6 This makes all Christian believers citizens of heaven, from where they eagerly await the glorious appearing of their Lord (see Phil. 3:20-21; Tit. 2:13). This "blessed hope" transforms the behavior of believers here and now.

When John saw how a new Greek philosophy, called Docetism, began to infiltrate the church and to undermine practical Christianity, he urged his churches in Asia Minor to "continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:28). He then pointed to their moral obligation: "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). Clearly, Christian hope requires a Christ-centered, Christlike life.

Peter is known as "the apostle of hope," because he emphasized that God "has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven for you... until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). He stressed, however, specific Christian qualities that are essential for entering the eternal kingdom of Christ: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (see 2 Peter 1:5-11). His appeal was there fore: "Since everything will be destroyed in this way [by fire, volume 10], what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look for ward to the day of God and speed its coming" (2 Peter 3:11, 12, emphasis added). The eager expectancy of the Second Coming was and still is an urgent motivation to remain in Christ and to become more Christlike.

A panoramic view of the Parousia

The way Jesus Himself had described His return in the glory of God in Matthew 24:29-31, and later amplified by His portrayals in the Apocalypse, reveals that the parousia of Christ will consummate the prophecies of the Day of Yahweh of Israel's prophets. No passage in the Gospels is more saturated with allusions to Israel's prophetic language than Matthew 24:29-31. In fact, "no where else in the New Testament is there a parousia scene composed of six apocalyptic motifs as we find in Matt 24:29- 31 ."7 This is a theophany, the Day of the Lord, the Son of Man in Daniel 7, the cosmic signs, the clouds of heaven, and the gathering of the elect. This observation gives Jesus' portrayal of His return a unique theological significance. It focuses all the apocalyptic signs on the per son of Jesus and on His parousia. None of these signs and manifestations were intended as mere symbols. All people will see, hear, and feel the dramatic manifestation of the Parousia. "To move his read ers into an overwhelming feeling of reality,"8 is the intentional meaning of Matthew's Christocentric eschatology. His parousia portrayal in Matthew 24 "blossoms as an apocalyptic flower on the trunk and branches" of Israel's prophecy.9

What this short review shows is that, far from being a mere appendix, afterword, or footnote to faith, the second coming of Jesus, the Second Advent, remains the great hope of all who, through Jesus, have any hope at all.

* All Scripture citations are from the New International Version.
1. J. H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1977 ), 24.

2. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House), Vol. 3,1985, 1186.

3. F.R Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1996), 304.

4. H. Berkhof, Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 307.

5. O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 211.

6. Brace, ibid., 304, 305.

7. Ki K. Kim, The Signs of the Parousia (Seoul, Korea: Korean Sahmyook University) Mon. Doct. Diss. Series, vol. 3, 1994, 364.

8. Ibid., 392.

9. Ibid., 393.


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Hans K. LaRondelle, Th.D., is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

June/July 2000

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More Articles In This Issue

The return of Jesus: The God who is coming

The final and full revealing of God

Indicators of the end time: Are the "signs" really signs?

The role of signs as Christians await the Second Coming

The Second Coming: Knowing and not knowing

What we may know and not know about Jesus' second coming

Adventist approaches to the Second Coming

What Seventh-day Adventists may learn from their past

The Second Coming and the time of trouble: A great time to be alive

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The Second Advent and the "fullness of time"

The investigative judgment and the timing of the Second Advent

The Second Coming: The certainty of an appointment with Christ

God has set a time and location for our ultimate meeting with Him

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